How do you decide when to tell your kid about your personality disorder(s)?

Guest post by Pseudonym to protect my mom
Photo by Leland Francisco.

My fiance and I are planning on having children in the near future. He has ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder — multiple personalities if you will. Right now, it’s just me, him, and my sister who know.

We’re wondering: how exactly do you tell your kid about your personality disorder? They’re going to notice, probably before we tell them. We won’t keep it a secret but how on earth do you tell them? — Sarah

I’m coming from the child’s perspective, since my mom is diagnosed with bipolar disorder (and has been since her late teens). I actually don’t remember ever not knowing, really, and I think that went a long way towards de-stigmatizing it. In contrast, I remember the divorce talk vividly, since my parents treated it as a big reveal one night when I was 6. That’s fine and works for a life-changing event like that. But since mental illness is a part of you, I think it’s better to treat it as you would any other chronic condition. “Oh, time to visit the therapist/take my pills/etc.” I think that actually went a long way towards shaping my reactions to friends who discovered they had depression or bipolar disorder and then quietly confided in me, and I think they were reassured by my reaction that it’s actually pretty normal and okay.

I was also very reassured, when I’d see news stories about mentally ill people harming others, that my mom does everything in her power to get her cycles under control. It made me feel safe and serves as an excellent model in case I had turned out or will turn out to have some of the same issues. I now don’t see it as something to be ashamed of, and I know what signs to look for and then what actions to take if I turn out to have the same problems.

Of course, there are some rocky aspects to it. It is tricky to know what details to reveal at what age, and if ever. I remember getting a lot of information I wasn’t able to handle yet around age 8 or 9, in the thick of the divorce being finalized, and they were things my mom would have been better off sharing with her therapist or a close friend. I also remember her telling me around age 12 that she would sometimes think about killing herself but that I was one of the main reasons she didn’t. That’s powerful, but also a lot to bear.

The kids also may not understand when and where it is appropriate to reveal the information. I felt pretty bad when I mentioned it at elementary school, and then my mom got upset with me, but it’s pretty understandable to not want certain other parents or teachers to know. So at some point you will have to sit them down and tell them where it is and isn’t okay to mention that mommy or daddy has bipolar disorder. That’s tricky to do without touching on the shame aspect, though, so I would recommend having a professional guide you through that process.

I would say in general, let your kids know that mental illness is present, that that’s okay (especially if they turn out to have it too), and to dispel scary myths they might hear at school or on the news. Let them know that it’s not their fault, that you love them, and that if they have feelings they can’t process they can come to you to talk about them. But let them ask their own questions as they want more information. Stay in tune with their reactions as best you can, so you know when to back off from dropping a bomb like talking about suicide until they’re ready. Maybe they won’t ever be for some things. But it comes back to the shame aspect. If that’s minimized, hopefully they will feel comfortable enough to ask for information if they want it.

I hope that helps. I am not a professional; I’ve just been in the kids’ situation, and that’s my own personal take on it. Thanks for reading and best of luck!

Comments on How do you decide when to tell your kid about your personality disorder(s)?

  1. I have bipolar disorder and panic disorder. Pretty much every person in my family has some sort of disorder. I’ve never really had a “talk” with my daughter about it. She is five and just knows that sometimes mommie gets upset for no reason or that lots of things scare mommie. She has never seemed to have a problem with it and it really helps me connect with her because my emotions are about as normal as a 5 year olds. So when she is throwing a fit or afraid to do something, I tell her I know how she feels and we work through it together.

  2. I grew up on the other side of this question (I’m a child of a parent with DID and bipolar), and there were many times I had to be the “grown up.” The time my mom told me she was thinking about killing herself was terrifying, and it impacted my feeling of safety for a decade.

    Because of this, I think the most important thing you can do is be in control. Even when you’re hurting, be careful not to endanger your child’s sense of security in the world. A good way of doing this is to give some basic information, and then let the child lead the conversation. They’ll ask questions if they want to. And always make sure they know that you love them and would never ever leave them.

    • I agree with this. I also want to add that it is important that you have some sort of conversation that explains that your mood is not their fault (within reason). When I was very young, my mom had extreme depression and growing up it would have been helpful to know that sometimes mom gets really sad and doesn’t want to play, but it’s not your fault and she will get better. I carried an immense feeling of responsibility for her from a young age because no one told me I couldn’t “fix” her sadness. I would say explaining what children WILL understand or notice, like that mom gets sad or angry or really energetic sometimes, is more important than telling them why clearly right away.

    • I agree with this so much. I am a child of a parent with Bipolar disorder and I was never informed of it until my late teens. It really caused a large rift between my mother and I which has yet to be completely repaired and I’m now in my mid-twenties.

      There were a lot of times where I was confused and scared which turned into anger toward her for things I did not understand until now. Even though I don’t know how much it would have changed her behavior had I known, it would definitely have changed my reactions. I don’t wish some of my experiences with her on any child young or old.

      Please tell your children as early as you think they can understand. Even though it might not completely help any undesirable situations that may arise, at least they can know it’s not their fault.

  3. Whoa! That’s tricky. You’ve got time to contemplate this though, since the kids are still technically hypothetical. I’d say you’re best bet is to look for online support groups for parents with personality disorders, and to find a counselor (not a psychiatrist, though they are useful people, too)who works with kids, or with people who have a personality disorder, who might be able to help you work out what you think it’s important they know and how to word that for different developmental stages. I say counselor because they are the ones who will talk you through tough decision making processes, help you get the information you need, point you to resources, etc. A psychiatrist is most likely not going to do that because their job is to help manage symptoms through medication and possibly other approaches, which is an entirely different ball game (and like I said, still important). I do know someone with a DID diagnosis who has two lovely children. She’s older than me and used to stay at our house over the summer when I was between the ages of seven and ten and I NEVER noticed a blame thing. At least nothing I could articulate. She was just fun and sweet and wouldn’t let us get away with breaking rules when my mom wasn’t looking (she was a young adult at this point). Had I been a little older I may have noticed some odd quarks but as a kid they didn’t seem odd, they were just part of this wonderful person I adored.

  4. I get you. Really. My husband and I are expecting our first. I have Bipolar Type II Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with it. He was diagnosed as a teen with Schizoid Personality Disoder and general anxiety disorder too.

    Here’s what I’d say: Don’t wait to explain mental illness. I do not want my child’s first exposure to mental illness to be a manic episode or a panic attack or their father shutting down sometimes or something like that. I want to introduce them to these illnesses on the right terms. First, I think its important to frame these conditions as ILLNESSES. They are not failings, they are not character flaws, they are not punishments or weaknesses. They are illnesses that your partner has and has to treat to stay healthy. That’s first, to me. Don’t let the first experience they have be a fearful one.

    The next big thing to me is to tell kids all the time how much they’re loved and use the “good times” (that’s what we call them) to reinforce this stuff. I want my kids to know that even when I have the bad days and can’t express how much I love them, I still do. It’s important to use the good times to build up strong and happy relationships that will withstand the bad days when they come.

    How do you tell them? Honestly. When they’re little, they won’t be able to process medical terms. But you can explain that they have a parent with a sickness. I would emphasize that its not the kind of sickness that goes away, but stays forever, but it can be treated. But its important not to wait until a bad day to do this. Mental illness does not have to be a scary, frightening thing unless its made to be. To me, the biggest thing to impress on your kids is that they should always know that they have done nothing to cause the illness, that they do not cause the bad days and that even when a parent can’t express it, that their love remains constant.

    A lot of this will fall to your partner, since he is the one with the illnesses. He will need to be honest. He will also have to make a very strong, constant committment to treatment (in some form). To me, children do deserve to know that their parent is doing all they can to treat the illness and be there for them.

    I know I’ve rambled, so forgive me. Honestly, the best way to do this, to me, is to treat mental illness as any other sickness in a way – because it is a sickness, and once that’s established, it goes a long way to diminishing the stigma against mentally ill people. But then on the other hand, it is different. It will never be gotten rid of. It will affect the children’s lives. But it is totally possible to raise children as a mentally ill person! It just takes some strong committment to treatment, lots of honesty and a willingness to get through the hard times together. I wish you all the luck in the world as you go forward. Its an interesting path, I’m learning that now.

    • I have not experienced this, but I loved:

      “A lot of this will fall to your partner, since he is the one with the illnesses. He will need to be honest. He will also have to make a very strong, constant committment to treatment (in some form). To me, children do deserve to know that their parent is doing all they can to treat the illness and be there for them.”

      Just wanted to say that. 🙂

    • “Don’t wait to explain mental illness.” From my experience (and it is just my experience) as a child having a sitdown talk with my parents about mental illness in our family at an older age was terrifying because I hadn’t noticed anything. I think if it had been part of the family vernacular and talked about regularly it wouldn’t have been such a source for anxiety.

      I wonder if there are any childrens books that explain mental illness in childrens terms?

    • ” He will also have to make a very strong, constant committment to treatment (in some form).”

      This, a million times this. My dad has quite severe depression, as well as anger issues, and it just ruined our family life. He would go on and off his medication, refused to go to therapy…it was just the worst. I’ve inherited/developed depression too, and I refuse to ever be like my dad in that way, if I do have children.

      • I completely agree with this part as well. I was the child of a mother with mental health issues who would often stop treatment or stop taking her medications because she didn’t like it. I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells because I never knew if she was managing her illness or not until the problems exploded. It left me incredibly anxious which I’ve carried into adulthood. It also made me incredibly resentful a lot of times because I would feel like I had to take care of her always, but she wasn’t always taking care of herself. It felt unfair and I often felt responsible for not giving her the support and care she needed to be successful in her treatment.

  5. I grew up on the other side of this too. And I want to second the comments that say you must be in control all the time and that your partner must have a STRONG commitment to treatment. My father was the mentally ill parent and he took A LOT of the family’s energy. When my parents divorced (as a result of his mental illness), I remember being super angry at my mom, because she got to divorce him and my sister and I were stuck with him.

    • I also have to agree with the “you must show a sense of control and your partner must have a STRONG commitment to ongoing treatment” sentiment.

      My sister-in-law has Bipolar Disorder and, frankly, it has been traumatic for her daughter (who now lives with her grandmother). She doesn’t recognize that her illness is an issue and is pretty on-and-off about treatment. You two sound like you are taking a much more mature and prepared approach… so, awesome, good start!

      First, I’d suggest that more people should be informed about your fiance’s conditions. From what I’ve seen, you may need to rely a little more on an extended support network in order to make sure your child feels secure even if Dad has a bad day. That’s going to require that your friends/family know what’s up so they can be helpful and supportive. It will also probably help your future children feel more comfortable discussing questions/fears/concerns than if it feels like a “family secret.” I think it should be an ongoing dialogue so that it’s a natural part of your family story. My fiance’s family always kept his sister’s condition under wraps, which meant they didn’t really have anyone they could turn to for support if things went badly (which they did).

      Good luck!!!

  6. Watching this thread with interest. Wee Chum (aged 7) knows that I sometimes see a doctor for my head, and I’m fairly certain he’s aware I take meds, but we’ve never specifically discussed it.

  7. I grew up in a household with a mother who was in absolute denial about her mental illness– so, first off, kudos to you for your commitment to being open and honest with your future children about the challenges they may face growing up.

    Mental illness doesn’t have to be scary. Think about providing concrete examples for your kids– in relate-able terms, but I would also suggest a way to point out that just because your child feels scared, or angry or upset, it doesn’t mean they have the same time of problems as daddy. Second, you are totally right– kids pick up on things. I remember thinking “my mommy isn’t like the other mommies”, but I didn’t understand why. Obviously, at 2 and 3 and 4 they might not understand the complexities of brain function, but explaining early, in terms they can understand, I think would make a huge difference in their acceptance of your hubby’s mental illness.

    Another suggestion I have is to create clear boundaries for your kids– if daddy is in his office/room/bed, please don’t bother him because daddy doesn’t feel well today– unless it is an emergency. Also think about making it VERY, VERY CLEAR that it is NOT your child’s fault that daddy might be upset today. (Growing up, I walked on eggshells all the time because I never was told when it was OKAY for me to approach my mom, so I lived in fear that it was going to be my fault she went to her room).

    Lastly, and this is sometimes hard to do because kids on their own make decisions, but one thing I feel strongly about is not making the kids responsible. I don’t mean blaming them, I mean telling them that they can “help” daddy by being quiet or picking up toys or whatever– as a kid, my dad did this, I think, as a way to try and get us involved, but it resulted in both my brother and I feeling like any time my mom was having a particularly rough day, it was our fault because we hadn’t done something right.

    Be open. Be honest. Explain that sometimes Daddy will be sad, but it is NOT THEIR FAULT.Let them know that Daddy loves them no matter what.

    Also, and this is kind of a side note, but along with the commitment to treatment (which I so strongly agree with), be committed to the idea that you may have to defend your choice to have children. I believe that it is your choice and only you know what is right for your family, there are many people who may question your choice.

    Thank you, by the way. I feel like you show so much responsibility and dedication as parents with your question, and as a kid who grew up basically under the exact opposite circumstances, it gives my heart hope that you will be be great, caring, loving parents who want, above all else, to provide a happy home for your future kids. And that is amazing.

  8. I have a good amount of experience with mental illness, I guess. I grew up with depression and anxiety disorders, and my brother is a paranoid schizophrenic. I’m also studying psychology in university, probably a direct result of my circumstances.

    I’ll just say that a person with a mental illness is no less of a person because of it. Like many people above have said, it’s an illness, not a fault. Treatment in terms of a psychologist/psychiatrist and medications is necessary in most cases, but in many cases it’s not enough. Support from family and friends and community can make or break a situation.

    From a child’s view, they may just see the person as they are, ‘quirks’ and all, but it may be frightening too. Having a caregiver lose control of themselves or a situation can be scary, and I think the most important thing is to start early to let them know that these things are temporary – not the illness, but the current moment.

    Now, in terms of how to break it to your child(ren), I think preventative measures can be most effective. Instead of a sit down talk, try to get involved in the mental health community of your area. Where I am (Toronto, Canada) there are tons of events run by hospitals/mental treatment centres for families and individuals. This can help by showing them from the beginning that people with mental illness are like everyone else, they have lives, interests and families, just like you. It helps remove stigmas, and provides more support. Also, it will be everything that they know – it’ll be ‘normal’ for them.

    If you can’t attend such events, or they’re not offered, you can try finding a psychologist/counselor in your area to speak with your child, and explain the details about your or your significant others’ illness. Sometimes it helps to hear information from someone who works with topics like these on a daily basis.

    Lastly, books are a great resource. Scaredy Squirrel works well for many kids, and you can try to relate them to your situation.

    Overall, I think the best course of action is to make mental illness, the community surrounding it, and how to deal with it part of your daily lives. Talk about it at dinner, attend community events, read books – this way, it wont be a taboo topic, they can know what to expect from caregivers, and of course, always emphasize that they are loved.

  9. I grew up with undiagnosed parents (paranoid and depressed) and life was hell. I had to be the grown up and from a young age had my own issues (bipolar) which went untreated. Now that I am an adult and have children, I didn’t want them to grow up that way. I am open about my diagnosis and treatments (age appropriately) and wrote them a story to explain why i act like i do. It really seemed to help them get the idea (they were 4, 6, and 8 at the time). I think honesty is the best, but keep it to their level.

  10. I think the biggest part of this is your partner owning that he has a lifelong chronic illness. I also have bipolar disorder and the first step to treating it is to not be in denial about it. Often, that’s where the hurt and the shame comes from that you hear about from grown children of people with disorders.

    Once you’re handling it, once the kids come, then I think you handle it as it comes up. You need to have a solid plan in place for what you’re going to do when your partner is having an off day/week/month – plan for that before it happens, because it will.

    How to tell your kids? Explain as symptoms come up. Tell the kids Daddy’s taking his medicine, seeing his head doctor, having a bad day. Be honest. If you save it for one great big reveal, they’ll probably be hurt that you left them in the dark for that long since they pick things up when they’re little. They’ll know before you tell them.

  11. I think something else that you should take into consideration is how you will handle it IF there comes a time when your fiance can’t handle the added stress of a child. I’m a nurse and I’ve seen some of the (thankfully rare) terrible things that can happen to families when someone’s mental illness gets the best of them. Medications and therapies have come such a long way, but there is no way to be certain they will always work. Sometimes, if it gets bad enough, people need to be alone for a little while or in a place where the focus is on THEM getting better. Sometimes, for a little while, that is what’s needed.
    I agree, you should tell more people, especially the one’s who will be involved in your child’s life and include them in your planning. Hopefully, NOTHING will ever come up that will make one or both of you feel that separating yourself or your child from your fiance is a thing that needs to happen. If it does though, it will be so much easier on your entire family if that is an eventuality that has already been acknowledged as a possibility and talked about. Sort of like advanced directives.
    Totally agreeing with everyone else who is saying to be as in control and upfront as possible! Definitely do your best to let your child know it’s never been their fault. I’ve also had a parent threaten suicide in front of me and when you hear something like that as a kid, there’s pretty much no way to not end up feeling like it’s your fault.
    I’m in your corner, wishing you all the best!

  12. I think the most important thing to consider here is the difference between someone who is aware of their condition and treating it and someone who is unaware or not treating their conditions. I also come from a mental illness household that was of the unaware variety (denial), and it was difficult. I feel a house that is simply open, discussions are continued, and honest will have beneficial rewards.

    I assume with treatment there is some sort of psychiatric professionals involved. If that is the case, I strongly urge you to bring up this conversation with them. They will have a wealth or resources available.

  13. There have already been so many thoughtful and well-informed answers here, to which I won’t try to add. I did just finish rewatching my all-time favorite family drama, “United States of Tara”, which happens to be about a family where the mother suffers from DID. While obviously not a “realistic” portrayal of the disorder, it might be fun to watch, because ultimately they are an awesome family who love each other a lot and make the best of a weird situation. They remind me of my own family more than any other one on TV!

  14. Maybe it was already said, but PLEASE enlist somebody to be a backup caretaker should the need arise. I grew up in a family with an emotionally (and often physically, for work) absent father and a mother with extreme depression- often not leaving her room for weeks.

    At the time I was annoyed that I had to get my little sisters ready for school or put them to bed, but looking back on it, I realize that *I* never gained certain life skills (how to do my homework, clean my room, manage money, etc) because I had no teacher. Nobody else in my family ever stepped up and took over to be the adult. My mother was functional enough to make sure we had food in the house, but not to tell me to brush my hair and teeth before walking to school, for example. I don’t know why my other family never jumped in to help, other than they possibly didn’t know/were worried about over stepping their boundaries.

    Widen your net, and if things start going south, CALL IN HELP. Even just asking a friend or family member to come by for an hour and read with your kids, or take them to soccer practice so THEY can go on having as normal a life as possible.

  15. I grew up with two mentally ill parents who were intermittently, inconsistently secretive or over-shared. If I can recommend anything, it’s picking a course of action and sticking to it. Of course, I hope for your course of action to be a healthy, happiness-oriented one that works for your family, and it’s only natural for your approach to need to evolve as you, your partner, and your family grow…but at least pick a degree of disclosure, or a level of engagement with your child about the illness in the family, and stick with it. Everyone your child is close to should be on the same page, and should know your comfort level with what that child knows, is responsible for, and what she/he experiences first-hand.

    I remember entire seasons when it seemed like nothing was wrong…just long enough for me to think that the problems (bipolar, depression, addiction, and more) had gone away…before the sh*t hit the fan and I found myself sitting in across the table from my parents hearing terrifyingly personal medical information about a previous night’s ER trip. My parents fought as hard as they could to keep me from even noticing anything was wrong, but when they lost control, the reality of the situation was less possible for me to wrap my head around than if I had been in the loop all along. As a young child, I was blind-sided often by outbursts, meltdowns, and sudden depressions that were so out of character as to seem like they had to be caused by some external force (like, say, me). I was left to puzzle out for myself what was happening, and thankfully I am a mostly balanced and objective person, so I didn’t carry too much guilt or anger towards them, but I know things could have gone another way.

    I don’t mean to sound like I support concealing an illness from a child – I don’t, at all – but I know that my trust in my parents has been permanently damaged by the fact that I knew I was being lied to or denied information. Instead of hearing, “Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” when it clearly wasn’t, I would have appreciated even something as vague as “Mom is sick, and we’re trying to figure out how to help her feel better.” I would have felt so much safer and more confident in my parents, to say nothing of the comfort I would have felt in knowing what was happening with my family as it happened.

  16. My mother had (let’s be real, has) severe PTSD and Anxiety. She was undiagnosed, but looking back all the signs were there. Anyway, I could get into the trauma the came with having a parent not necessarily be with it, and wondering what the f-bomb was going on, but I’m not. Because kids are resilient, if you make sure you are using age appropriate language and letting them know what they need to know (not what you want them to know, because it might make your life easier), and routinely encouraging conversations about this, as well as affirming their safe and loved environment, this may not be an issue for them.

    Also, treat these mental health challenges as you would any health challenges. Would you deny the existence of an obvious physical condition, or avoid talking about it? No, you wouldn’t. By being open about it, you will also teach yer little one/s that stigma for this sort of thing has no place in your home or their lives. I like to think I am a more compassionate person, with a deeper understanding for others because of the gongshow I experienced directly with my family.

  17. I am bipolar. I was diagnosed ten years ago, and I currently have a son who will be 5 in a few short weeks. I will be the first to admit that my approach to my BPD is different than most people’s. I don’t take medication (I don’t like it and don’t find them helpful in my case) and I don’t go to therapy. However I’ve worked long and hard to find herbal supplements that help, and that combined with an open and honest understanding of what my triggers are, what an episode feels like (so that I don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole and instead remember that emotion is temporary) have allowed me to lead a fairly normal life. When it comes to my son I know that soon I will start having talks with him about this part of who I am. (he has a sensory disorder and just isn’t mentally at a place where we can have that conversation yet).

    All of that said though I cannot imagine telling my son that I have an illness. For me my bipolar disorder is something that is part of who I am. I work hard to keep things from going to one extreme or another, but that also means that I feel things very strongly. It makes me passionate, it makes me creative, and that all of the negatives that can come with BPD (or any mental disorder) have a positive flip side to them as well. After all, every great mind in human history could be said to have one mental disorder or another!

    Something that has helped me to deal with my son’s struggle with sensory disorders is a concept written about by Robert Anton Wilson. He coined the phrase “Reality tunnels” by which he meant that there is no objective reality. Everyone has their own unique subjective version of it, but as a general rule we have certain things that we’ve all agreed upon. For my son, having a sensory disorder means that his reality tunnel is a little bit further away from the “norm”, and when the day comes for the two of us to talk about my disorder that’s what I will tell him. And I will remind him that while it’s important to never let anything completely disconnect us from society around us, being different is an amazing thing. I never want him to view my disorder or his as a negative thing needing to be fixed. I will remind him that no matter where I am at mentally he can always talk to me about how he is feeling, and I will strive to not let my occasional downward cycles affect him. But I want us to find ways to always appreciate the good that can come from being a little different. And I want to pass on my belief that our disorders can be positive things to not over come but celebrated.

  18. This is a very good question, and it’s one I’ve been asking myself. In my case, though, replace “personality disorder” with “Asperger’s.” Are there any aspie parents who have deal with this kind of dilemma? Thanks in advance!

  19. I think all of the advice that has been offered so far is excellent, and I would like to weigh in as both a child of a mother with mental illness and a person with mental illness. My mother is undiagnosed but I believe she has some form of mood and/or personality disorder such as Bipolar II or Borderline Personality Disorder. It was really difficult to grow up with a person who was constantly swinging between intense moods, and I often felt – and, frankly, was often told – that her moods were my fault. I think the worst part of it all, though, was that she never sought treatment. When my family finally recognized that I have Bipolar II, they made sure I got treatment, and I don’t understand why she didn’t think it was important to also do so for herself. Consider the importance of family therapy as well as individual therapy – family therapy helps you work on the dynamics in your family, not just on your own personal experiences. Also, something to keep in mind is the possibility that a child born to someone with a mental illness could also have one themselves (I am a case in point.) There is a genetic component to mental illness that is as yet not completely understood but definitely exists. So I would say that in addition to all of the other advice already given here, remember to notice and adequately provide for your child’s own mental health needs.

    • I was also going to point out that these things can be inheritable and so children of people with mood/personality disorders may have related conditions themselves. Two things about that:

      1)Keep an eye out for signs of such conditions in your children so that you can help them get the help they need as soon as possible.

      2)If the parent with the mood/personality disorder(s) can been open and communicative with the children about the issues that they face and the strategies they have learned to help them cope with these issues, it will help the children learn to cope themselves.
      Even if the coping strategies that the parent uses don’t work for the child, it will still help them by modeling a mindset of finding ways to manage your issues.

  20. I would also suggest that as children get older you give them some practical guidelines and tools. Let them know what a “typical” bad day will look like and how they should handle it. That it’s OK. Also, let them know what the signs or symptoms are for what is not OK and who they should call/what they should do about it if it should happen. I think for kids a lot of fear comes from uncertainty and lack of control. If they know what to expect and what to do I think a lot of that can be avoided.
    Also, I think having a close network of people that are aware of the situation and can be relied on is really important. If this network is available to children and they know that they can always get ahold of someone they will feel more secure. Sometimes kids just don’t know how to handle something or feel uncomfortable and need a break. If you have a group of people who can show up and help, offer advice, talk a situation through, or just provide some space for everyone it can make a huge difference.

  21. I just want to point out that the mental illnesses listed are not actually “personality disorders.” Personality disorders are their own class of mental illness and a totally different beast, since the mental health community is still debating whether or not they can even be treated.
    Sorry to be so pedantic, but I just wanted to clarify.

      • Guys, as someone who was diagnosed with a personality disorder and is now considered recovered, I just want to say that, yes, it is hard and difficult but very possible to recover from a personality disorder. One of the hardest things for me was getting over the initial diagnosis and all the awful awful things people said about people who had the personality disorder I was diagnosed with.

        But that has little to do with this discussion! I do want to have kids and have thought a lot about what to tell them about this issue. I don’t have that figured all out yet, all I have decided is that I will always prioritize and stay in therapy. I am glad to have been through all I have been through, because if any of my kids start having some of the same problems I have had I can spot it early and get them help sooner than I did.

  22. I hadn’t given this much thought until I read this article and read through the comments. I think there are a lot of good suggestions here. One idea that came to mind that I think I will do when I become a parent someday, is when the child is old enough, to tell him/her what she can do if I’m having a meltdown and what is happening when I’m going through a meltdown. My father, sister, and I had no idea what to do with my mom when she had problems (no one did as she never got a diagnosis), and the results were sometimes devastating for our family.

    I have panic disorder, so in my case, I would probably instruct the kid to open a window, bring me a glass of cold water, then shut the door to the room and watch TV for an hour. With your fiance, the actions would likely be very different, but if the child knows what to expect and how to react, that may help.

  23. i can’t agree more with the above comments that suggest a commitment to treatment.

    my father is mentally ill and as a kid growing up with him, i knew there was something wrong with him, but he would never talk to me about it. i hated him. i hated what he did to our family, i hated the way he treated me & i hated how it shaped my relationship with men. then when i was an adult he was diagnosed and was put on medication. which he took briefly but abandoned.

    as as adult, i now know how to handle him and don’t hate him anymore, but my daughter is around him a lot and i’ve had to explain it to her.

    so this is what i’ve told her since she was very young: grandpa has problems dealing with certain things, and that IT’S NOT HER FAULT or anyone elses and she’s NOT RESPONSIBLE for it, and she can’t stop it or control it.

    since she’s grown up around it, she has a good understanding of it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother her. she was with him for the summer and being around him kicked her anxiety into high gear and she pulled a fist sized patch of hair out of her head.

    so, i guess what i’m saying is that the best thing you can do, is to both commit to staying healthy and consistent. be honest, and straightforward when possible. but, unfortunately, there’s no fail safe. theres no guarantee that it won’t negatively affect your child. but like every other parent, you do the best you can with what your’re given and what you’re capable of

    and most importantly – raising a kid is *hard* harder for some than others. don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. always ask for help when you need it. all parents of all stripes needs help sometimes.

  24. I would like to comment from a professional standpoint as well as a personal one. I am a psychiatric nurse who has a child with a bipolar and clinical depressed ex- partner.

    Having a child is a very very selfless act, and one HAS to be ready to give up everything for that child. A child cannot be left to fend for themselves because “daddy is not feeling well” and mental illness does not make it okay for kids to be emotionally mistreated as I see this happen all the time in my career as well as in my personal life. I know that this is a hard subject to talk about, but you must be sure that you want to have a child for the right reasons, that you are not being selfish, wanting a child to make your own lives seem full when you may not be able to fulfill the life of the child.

    Ask if you know you will be in it for the long haul. Can you handle temper tantrums, get up daily at 2, 4, 5, 6am? not go to bed until 1 or 2? Late night last min homework assignments?

    I have a friend who I always thought would be a great dad, never knowing his mental health issues, I kept asking when him and his wife would have kids. His suprising response one day? “you know, I love everyone elses kids, but I am terrified that my “not so great times” would completely override any part of my good parenting skills. And so he chooses to be everyone elses kids best bud.

    I am not by any means saying that having a mental health diagnosis means you should not have kids at all, but to really really dig down deep, be honest with yourself 100% before the kids come. How do you handle your hard times now? how will this need to change when a little one comes along? Is this something you will be able to REALLY do? Always always always have reliable help. KIDS NEED STABILITY!

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